The Place for Functional Foods within Hospitality: An Opportunity?
Williams, Peter, The Journal of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health
The term 'functional food' has been used for just over ten years and refers to 'any food or food ingredient that may provide a health benefit beyond the traditional nutrients it contains'.1 A functional food can be a natural food (like oats or soy), a food to which a component has been added (like sterol-containing margarine, or yoghurt with probiotic cultures), or a food in which a component has been modified or removed by technological or biotechnical means (e.g. a bread incorporating flour with higher levels of resistant starch, or an oil with a changed fatty acid profile).2
Consumers are becoming more health-conscious and most agree that eating healthily is a better way to manage illness than medication.3 This has led to greater acceptance and consumption of foods with purported health-promoting properties. Some of the ingredients of greatest research interest currently include conjugated linolenic acid and whey protein from dairy foods, carotenoids like lycopene and lutein in vegetables, and phytoestrogens such as isoflavones in soy and lignans in rye. There is an observed 'push' from food companies seeking new markets and profit opportunities, with a market 'pull' from health-conscious consumers.
Some have expressed doubts about the public health benefit from functional foods, concerned that they may promote unsubstantiated claims and cause confusion about the importance of a balanced diet.4,5 However, research is demonstrating the effectiveness of functional foods in clinical situations and their use is now part of individual treatment.6 There is also emerging evidence of their role in health promotion. For example, advice to increase folate intake - through increased intakes of fruit and vegetables - may not be as effective as the consumption of a fortified food supply.7
Today functional foods are almost entirely sold in retail settings, and claims about their benefits have been largely targeted to individuals buying food for consumption at home. Yet the current westernised diet has been described as part of a 'patho-environment' and attempts to improve public health need to be ecological in scope.8 With more than a third of meals now eaten outside the home, and this proportion growing, it is time to consider the role of functional foods and meals in food service settings.9
Most attempts to improve food in hospitality settings have been led by the health workers seeking to influence a sector that has been reluctant to make changes that might affect profits. Change strategies have usually targeted one of four elements: menus, recipes, cooking methods or ingredients. A functional food-based approach fits in with the first and last of these. There are examples of successes. In Australia, McDonald's reformulated their hamburger buns to include a source of resistant starch and changed to a newly formulated frying oil with half the level of saturated fat, without any change in product taste or price. However, it is also clear that many consumers are willing to pay more for products with demonstrated effectiveness, particularly if this does not require major changes to traditional eating patterns.
A recent article calculated that a combination of ingredients with known benefits in a 'Polymeal' might reduce cardiovascular disease risk by 76%. …